Unfortunately, they can rarely be had in free agency, as franchise signal-callers in their prime simply don't hit the open market.
What you do have are experienced veterans on the back ends of their careers, former first-round picks that didn't pan out, and guys the Miami Dolphins unwisely acquired for second-round picks.
These are my top five free-agent quarterbacks in 2010:
(Note: This series of lists only includes unrestricted free agents, as those are the only type that can be signed without giving up compensation. Restricted free agents—especially the best ones—will cost valuable draft picks.)
Chad Pennington, Miami Dolphins
After a highly productive season in 2008, Pennington struggled out of the gate in 2009 and played in just three games before a shoulder injury ended his season.
With Chad Henne taking over as the Dolphins' starter and backups Tyler Thigpen and Pat White under contract, it seems unlikely Pennington will return to the Dolphins in 2010.
While his durability and arm strength are as concerning as ever, there is no doubt Pennington has the football intelligence and accuracy to be a solid NFL starter.
Teams without any kind of answer at quarterback will certainly look to Pennington as a short-term fix, and he'll eventually make one hell of a backup.
J. P. Losman, Oakland Raiders
Losman was solid in his only full season of starting with the Bills in 2006, throwing 19 touchdowns against 14 interceptions and completing more than 62 percent of his passes.
But the former first-round pick hasn't been able to put it all together so far, and he spent last season between the UFL's Las Vegas Locomotives and the Oakland Raiders.
Losman is still just 28, would make a solid backup for a lot of teams, and has the ability to maybe one day start.
Daunte Culpepper, Detroit Lions
NFL teams have largely shied away from the former Pro Bowler after his serious knee injury and failure in Miami, and he's been largely unimpressive in stints with Oakland in Detroit.
I'm one of the few that believes Culpepper still has something left, but it seems unlikely he'll ever be in the position to show it given his recent history.
Culpepper makes for an outstanding backup quarterback given his experience and past production, but after unimpressive showings with two of the league's worst teams, his days of starting are likely over at 33.
Chris Redman, Atlanta Falcons
Redman was actually out of the league until his old college coach, Bobby Petrino, dusted him off in Atlanta in 2007, though he actually hasn't been horrible.
While he is absolutely not starting material and has already peaked at age 32, you could do worse for a backup quarterback.
Kyle Boller, St. Louis Rams
Much like Losman, Boller is a former first-rounder whose career has taken an unimpressive and disappointing turn. I always liked Boller's upside and skill set, but he was never able to put it all together in Baltimore.
Also like Losman, Boller has the ability to be a solid backup in the NFL, and could one day deserve another shot at starting.
Beyond the Top Five
- Charlie Batch, Pittsburgh Steelers — Batch has done fairly well when called upon in Pittsburgh, but he's not going to be high on anyone's wishlist at age 35. He may spend a few more years in the league as a backup, but retirement isn't far off.
- Mark Brunell, New Orleans Saints — It's actually pretty amazing that Brunell is still in the league, because the guy has pretty much nothing left. It wouldn't surprise me if he called it quits this offseason, Super Bowl ring in hand.
- A. J. Feeley, Carolina Panthers — Feeley's had his shining moments in spot duty (primarily in Philadelphia) but he's never shown he has the ability to start. He's not starting material and never will be, but his age and arm strength should help him stick around in the NFL as a backup.
- Rex Grossman, Houston Texans — Injuries plagued the early part of Grossman's career, and he was never able to put it together in the city where NFL quarterbacks go to die known as Chicago. He kind of fits into that Losman/Boller category of former first-rounders that can serve as backups with some upside, but I don't see much happening for him.
- Josh McCown, Carolina Panthers — Only two seasons removed from serving as the Raiders' starter, McCown has attempted just six passes in the past two years. His days of starting are likely over, and he'll face plenty of competition just to stay in the NFL as a backup.
- Brian St. Pierre, Arizona Cardinals — St. Pierre has more years in the NFL (seven) that career passes attempted (five), but he's long been familiar with the Ken Whisenhunt system from his time in Pittsburgh and Arizona. He won't garner much interest on the open market, but should be someone the Cardinals would like to retain as a backup with Kurt Warner retiring.
Who do you think are the top free agent quarterbacks in 2010? Share your thoughts in the forum here!